For Girls, the Biggest Danger of Sexual Violence Lurks at Home

Civil Society, COVID-19, Development & Aid, Editors’ Choice, Gender, Gender Violence, Headlines, Health, Human Rights, Latin America & the Caribbean, Regional Categories

Gender Violence

Girls' sexual and reproductive rights activist Mía Calderón stands on San Martín Avenue in San Juan de Lurigancho, the most populous municipality of Peru's capital. She complained that the pandemic once again highlighted the fact that sexual violence against girls comes mainly from someone close to home and that the girls are often not believed. CREDIT: Mariela Jara/IPS

Girls’ sexual and reproductive rights activist Mía Calderón stands on San Martín Avenue in San Juan de Lurigancho, the most populous municipality of Peru’s capital. She complained that the pandemic once again highlighted the fact that sexual violence against girls comes mainly from someone close to home and that the girls are often not believed. CREDIT: Mariela Jara/IPS

LIMA, Oct 22 2021 (IPS) – “During the pandemic, sexual violence against girls has grown because they have been confined with their abusers. If the home is not a safe place for them, what is then, the streets?” Mía Calderón, a young activist for sexual and reproductive rights in the capital of Peru, remarks with indignation.


The 19-year-old university student, whose audiovisual communications studies have been interrupted due to the restrictions set in place to curb the covid-19 pandemic, is an activist who belongs to the youth collective Vayamos in San Juan de Lurigancho, the district of Lima where she lives.

Located to the northeast of the capital, it is a district of valleys and highlands areas higher than 2200 metres above sea level, where water is a scarce commodity and is supplied by tanker trucks. San Juan de Lurigancho was created 54 years ago and its population of 1,117,629 inhabitants, according to official figures, is mostly made up of families who have come to the capital from the country’s hinterland.

Lima’s 43 districts are home to a total of 9.7 million people, and San Juan de Lurigancho has by far the largest population.

In an interview with IPS during a walk through the streets of her district, Calderón said she helped one of her friends during the mandatory social isolation decreed in this Andean nation between March and July 2020, which has been followed by further restrictions on mobility at times of new covid-19 outbreaks.

Since then, classrooms have been closed and education has continued virtually from home, where girls spend most of their time.

“She was in lockdown with her two sisters, her mother and stepfather. But she left before her stepfather could rape her; the harassment had become unbearable. Now she is very afraid of what might happen to her little sisters because he’s still living at home,” she said.

But not all girls and adolescents at risk of sexual abuse have support networks to rely on.

An intersection with hardly any passers-by in San Juan de Lurigancho, one of the 43 districts of the Peruvian capital. There are now fewer children on the streets because schools have been closed since the beginning of the covid pandemic and they receive their education virtually. This keeps them safe from violence in public spaces, but increases the abuse they suffer at home. CREDIT: Mariela Jara/IPS

An intersection with hardly any passers-by in San Juan de Lurigancho, one of the 43 districts of the Peruvian capital. There are now fewer children on the streets because schools have been closed since the beginning of the covid pandemic and they receive their education virtually. This keeps them safe from violence in public spaces, but increases the abuse they suffer at home. CREDIT: Mariela Jara/IPS

Data that exposes the violence

Official statistics reveal a devastating reality: Between early 2020 and August of this year there have been 1763 births to girls under 14 years of age, according to the Health Ministry’s birth registration system (CNV).

All of these pregnancies and births are considered to be the result of rape, as the concept of sexual consent does not apply to girls under 14, who are protected by Peruvian law.

Looking at CNV figures from 2018 to August 2021, the total number increases to 4483, which would mean that on average five girls under the age of 14 give birth in Peru every day.

This is also the conclusion reached by the Latin American and Caribbean Committee for the Defence of Women’s Rights (Cladem), which in September completed a nationwide study on forced child pregnancy in Peru, published on Tuesday, Oct. 19.

For Cladem, forced child pregnancy is any pregnancy of a minor under 14 years of age resulting from rape, who was not guaranteed access to therapeutic abortion, which in the case of Peru is the only form of legal termination of pregnancy.

“These figures are unacceptable, but we know they may be even worse because of underreporting,” Lizbeth Guillén, who until August was the Peruvian coordinator of this Latin American network whose regional headquarters are in Lima, told IPS by telephone.

The activist headed up the project “Monitoring and advocacy for the prevention, care and punishment of forced child pregnancy” which was funded by the United Nations Trust Fund to End Violence against Women between 2018 and August 2021.

An aggravating factor for at risk girls and adolescents was that during the months of lockdown, public services for addressing violence against women were suspended and the only thing available was toll-free telephone numbers, which made it more difficult for victims to file complaints.

“What we have experienced shows us once again that homes are the riskiest places for girls,” said Guillén.

The Cladem study also reveals that the number of births to girls under 10 years of age practically tripled, climbing from nine cases in 2019 to 24 in 2020. And the situation remains worrisome, as seven cases had already been documented this year as of August.

Julia Vargas, 61, works in the municipality of Villa El Salvador, south of Lima, where she has lived since the age of 11 and where she maintains her vocation of service as a health promoter. Through this work she knows first-hand about sexual violence against girls and adolescents, which she says has worsened during the pandemic since they have been confined to their homes with their potential abusers. CREDIT: Mariela Jara/IPS

Julia Vargas, 61, works in the municipality of Villa El Salvador, south of Lima, where she has lived since the age of 11 and where she maintains her vocation of service as a health promoter. Through this work she knows first-hand about sexual violence against girls and adolescents, which she says has worsened during the pandemic since they have been confined to their homes with their potential abusers. CREDIT: Mariela Jara/IPS

One district’s experience

“Sexual violence against girls has been indescribable during this period, worse than covid-19 itself. Men have been taking advantage of their daughters, they think they have authority over them,” said Julia Vargas, a local resident of Villa El Salvador.

This municipality, which emerged as a self-managed experience five decades ago to the south of the capital, offers health promotion as part of its public services to the community.

Vargas, a 61-year-old mother of four grown children, is proud to be a health promoter, for which she has received training from the Health Ministry and from non-governmental organisations such as the Flora Tristán Peruvian Women’s Centre.

“It’s hard to conceive of so much violence against girls,” she told IPS indignantly at a meeting in her district, “and the worst thing is that many times the mothers turn a blind eye; they say if he (their partner) leaves, who is going to support me.”

Studies indicate that women’s economic dependence is a factor that prevents them from exercising autonomy and reinforces unequal power relations that sustain gender-based violence.

Vargas continued: “There was a case of a father who got his three daughters pregnant and made them have clandestine abortions, and do you think the justice system did anything? Nothing! It said there was consent, how can a young girl give consent?!”

“Girls can’t be mistreated this way, they have rights,” she said.

Mía Calderón, a 19-year-old youth activist with the Vayamos collective, demands more and better measures in Peru to defend girls from sexual violence, fueled by the closure of schools since the beginning of the pandemic, which keeps them isolated and in homes where they sometimes live with their abusers. CREDIT: Mariela Jara/IPS

Mía Calderón, a 19-year-old youth activist with the Vayamos collective, demands more and better measures in Peru to defend girls from sexual violence, fueled by the closure of schools since the beginning of the pandemic, which keeps them isolated and in homes where they sometimes live with their abusers. CREDIT: Mariela Jara/IPS

The culprit nearby

Calderón is also familiar with this situation. “The pandemic has highlighted the fact that sexual violence comes mainly from someone close to home and that many times the girls are not believed: ‘you provoked your uncle, your stepfather’, they are told by their families, instead of focusing on the abuser,” she said.

Her collective Vayamos works to help girls have the right to enjoy every stage of their lives. Due to the pandemic, the group had to restrict its face-to-face activities, but as a counterbalance, it increased the publication of content on social networks.

“No girl or adolescent should live in fear of sexual violence or should face any such risk,” she said.

However, Cladem’s research indicates that between 2018 and 2020, there were 12,677 complaints of sexual violence against girls under 14 in the country, the cause of many forced pregnancies.

But official statistics do not differentiate between child and adolescent pregnancy.

The 2019 National Health Survey reported that of the female population between 15 and 19 years of age, 12.6 percent had been pregnant or were already mothers. The percentage in rural areas was higher than the national rate: 22.7 percent.

Youth activist Mia Calderón, health promoter Julia Vargas and Cladem member Lizbeth Guillén all agree on the proposal to decriminalise abortion in cases of rape and on the need for timely delivery of emergency kits by public health services to prevent forced pregnancies and maternity.

These kits contain emergency contraceptive pills, HIV and hepatitis tests, among other components for comprehensive health protection for victims.

“There are regulatory advances such as this joint action protocol between the Ministry of Women and the Health Ministry for a girl victim of violence to access the emergency kit, but in practice it is not complied with due to the personal conceptions of some operators and they deprive the victims of this right,” explained Guillén.

She stressed that in order to overcome the weak response of the State to such a serious problem, it is also necessary to adequately implement existing regulations, guarantee access to therapeutic abortion for girls and adapt prevention strategies, since the danger often lies directly in the home.

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Argentina’s Small Farming Communities Reach Consumers Online

Active Citizens, Civil Society, Cooperatives, Development & Aid, Economy & Trade, Editors’ Choice, Featured, Food and Agriculture, Green Economy, Headlines, Integration and Development Brazilian-style, Latin America & the Caribbean, Poverty & SDGs, Projects, Regional Categories

Food and Agriculture

This article is part of IPS’ coverage of World Food Day, celebrated Oct. 16, whose 2021 theme is: Grow, nourish, sustain. Together.

One of the Argentine small farmer groups participating in the digital marketing project uses agroecological irrigation and tomato crushing techniques in the province of Mendoza. CREDIT: Nicolás Heredia/Alma Nativa

One of the Argentine small farmer groups participating in the digital marketing project uses agroecological irrigation and tomato crushing techniques in the province of Mendoza. CREDIT: Nicolás Heredia/Alma Nativa

BUENOS AIRES, Oct 14 2021 (IPS) – “The biggest problem for family farmers has always been to market and sell what they produce, at a fair price,” says Natalia Manini, a member of the Union of Landless Rural Workers (UST), a small farmers organisation in Argentina that has been taking steps to forge direct ties with consumers.


The UST, which groups producers of fresh vegetables, preserves and honey, as well as goat and sheep breeders, from the western province of Mendoza, opened its own premises in April in the provincial capital of the same name.

In addition, it has just joined Alma Nativa (“native soul”), a network created to market and sell products from peasant and indigenous organisations, which brings together more than 4,300 producers grouped in 21 organisations, and now sells its products over the Internet.

“Selling wholesale to a distributor is simple, but the problem is that a large part of the income does not reach the producer,” Manini told IPS from the town of Lavalle in Mendoza province.

“The aim is to mobilise consumers to buy products from Latin American ecosystems that are made with respect for the environment, while small producers benefit from visibility and logistical support so that local products reach the entire country.” — Guadalupe Marín

The rural leader argues that, due to cost considerations, farmers can only access fair trade through collective projects, which have received a boost from the acceleration of digital changes generated by the covid-19 pandemic.

Alma Nativa is a marketing and sales solution formally created in 2018 by two Argentine non-governmental organisations (NGOs) focused on socio-environmental issues: Fibo Social Impact and the Cultural Association for Integral Development (ACDI). Their approach was to go a step beyond the scheme of economic support for productive development projects.

“Back in 2014 we began to ask ourselves why small farmer and indigenous communities could not secure profitable prices for the food and handicrafts they produce, and to think about how to get farmers to stop depending on donations and subsidies from NGOs and the state,” Fibo director Gabriela Sbarra told IPS in an interview in Buenos Aires.

Sbarra was a regular participant in regional community product fairs, which prior to the restrictions put in place due to the pandemic were often organised in Argentina by the authorities, who financed the setting up of the stands, accommodation and travel costs from their communities for farmers and craftspeople.

It was only thanks to this economic aid that farmers and artisans were able to make a profit.

“The effort was geared towards finding a genuine market for these products, which could not be sold online because it is very difficult to generate traffic on the Internet and they cannot reach supermarkets either, because they have no production volume. Informality was leaving communities out of the market,” Sbarra explained.

Three cooperatives in the Chaco region, the great forested plain that Argentina shares with Bolivia and Paraguay, are dedicated to honey production and are part of the Alma Nativa project, through which they sell their products to consumers throughout the country via the Internet. CREDIT: Nicolás Heredia/Alma Nativa

Three cooperatives in the Chaco region, the great forested plain that Argentina shares with Bolivia and Paraguay, are dedicated to honey production and are part of the Alma Nativa project, through which they sell their products to consumers throughout the country via the Internet. CREDIT: Nicolás Heredia/Alma Nativa

E-commerce, the new market

So the founders of Alma Nativa knocked on the doors of Mercado Libre, an e-commerce giant born in Argentina that has expanded throughout most of Latin America. The company agreed not to charge commissions for sales by an online store of agroecological food produced by local communities.

Alma Nativa then set up a warehouse in the town of Villa Madero, on the outskirts of Buenos Aires, where products arriving from rural communities throughout the country are labeled for distribution.

“The pandemic has created an opportunity, because it helped to open a debate about what we eat. Many people began to question how food is produced and even forced agribusiness companies to think about more sustainable production systems,” said Manini.

Norberto Gugliotta, manager of the Cosar Beekeeping Cooperative, emphasised that the pandemic not only accelerated the process of digitalisation of producers and consumers, but also fueled the search by a growing part of society for healthy food produced in a socially responsible manner.

“We were prepared to seize the opportunity, because our products were ready, so we joined Alma Nativa this year,” said the beekeeper from the town of Sauce Viejo. Gugliotta is the visible face of a cooperative made up of some 120 producers in the province of Santa Fe, in the centre of this South American country, who produce certified organic, fair trade honey.

Argentina, Latin America’s third largest economy, is an agricultural powerhouse, with a powerful agribusiness sector whose main products are soybeans, corn and soybean oil, which in 2020 generated 26.3 billion dollars in exports, according to official figures.

Behind the success lies a huge universe of family farmers and peasant and indigenous communities. According to the latest National Agricultural Census, carried out in 2018, more than 90 percent of the country’s 250,881 farms are family-run.

But the infrastructure and technological lag in rural areas is significant, as demonstrated by the fact that only 35 percent of farms have Internet access.

The deprivation is particularly acute in the Chaco, a neglected region in the north of the country, home to some 200,000 indigenous people belonging to nine groups whose economy is closely linked to natural resources, according to the non-governmental Fundapaz.

Indigenous artisans from the Pilagá community in the northern province of Formosa, within the Gran Chaco region, have begun selling their baskets online throughout Argentina. CREDIT: Rosario Bobbio/Alma Nativa

Indigenous artisans from the Pilagá community in the northern province of Formosa, within the Gran Chaco region, have begun selling their baskets online throughout Argentina. CREDIT: Rosario Bobbio/Alma Nativa

New platform for indigenous handicrafts

Communities from the Chaco, a vast region of low forests and savannas and rich biodiversity covering more than one million square km in Argentina, Bolivia and Paraguay, which is home to a diversity of native peoples, also began to market their handicrafts over Mercado Libre in the last few weeks.

“This initiative originated in Brazil with the ‘Amazonia em Pé’ programme and today we are replicating it in Argentina, in the Gran Chaco area. It seeks to build bridges between local artisans and consumers throughout the country,” explained Guadalupe Marín, director of sustainability at Mercado Libre.

“The aim is to mobilise consumers to buy products from Latin American ecosystems that are made with respect for the environment, while small producers benefit from visibility and logistical support so that local products reach the entire country,” she told IPS in Buenos Aires.

On Sept. 27, Mercado Libre launched the campaign “From the Gran Chaco, for you”, which offers for sale more than 2,500 products in 200 categories, such as baskets, indigenous and local art, decorative elements made with natural fibers, honey, weavings and handmade games.

It includes not only Alma Nativa, but also Emprendedores por Naturaleza (“entrepreneurs by/for nature”), a programme launched by the environmental foundation Rewilding Argentina, which works for the conservation of the Chaco and now promotes the sale of products made by 60 families living in rural areas adjacent to the El Impenetrable national park, the largest protected area in the region.

“The idea for the project arose last year, after we conducted a socioeconomic survey among 250 families in the area that found that the only income of 98 percent of them comes from welfare,” said Fatima Hollmann, regional coordinator of the Rewilding Argentina Communities Programme.

She told IPS that “people raise livestock for subsistence and sometimes work on fencing a field or some other temporary task, but there are no steady sources of employment in El Impenetrable.”

“That is why we are trying to generate income for local residents,” Hollmann explained in an interview in Buenos Aires. “Our production lines are focused on ceramics, since most people have built their houses there with adobe. Many also know how to make bricks and we have held trainings to teach people to turn a brick into an artistic piece, inspired by native fauna, which transmits the importance of conserving the forest.”

According to the figures released by the expert during the first week of the programme “From the Gran Chaco, for you” in early October, 644 products were offered for sale, of which 382 were sold to buyers from more than 10 Argentine provinces, including 100 percent of the textiles available and 76 percent of the wooden handicrafts.

“The alternative is to cut down the native forests,” Hollmann says. “We are proposing a transition from an extractivist economy to a regenerative one, which contributes to the reconstruction of the ecosystem, and gives consumers in the cities the chance to contribute to that goal.”

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South-South & Triangular Cooperation to Help Achieve UN’s Development Goals

Civil Society, Development & Aid, Editors’ Choice, Featured, Global, Global Governance, Headlines, IPS UN: Inside the Glasshouse, Poverty & SDGs, Regional Categories, TerraViva United Nations

Opinion

Students of the Lira Integrated Fish Farm in Uganda, a South-South Cooperation Facility for Agriculture and Food Security, eat their lunch. Credit: FAO/Isaac Kasamani

UNITED NATIONS, Sep 10 2021 (IPS) – The 2021 high-level commemoration of the United Nations Day for South-South Cooperation, organized ahead of the opening of the seventy-sixth session of the United Nations General Assembly, provided an opportunity to discuss Southern solidarity in support of a more inclusive, resilient and sustainable future while effectively responding to the global COVID-19 crisis across the global South.


The 2021 United Nations Day for South-South cooperation presented the opportunity for stakeholders to highlight concrete follow-up to the twentieth session of the High-level Committee on South-South Cooperation (HLC), which took place from 1 to 4 June 2021 in New York.

“South-South and triangular cooperation must have a central place in our preparations for a strong recovery”, says Secretary-General António Guterres, reminding us that “we will need the full contributions and cooperation of the global South to build more resilient economies and societies and implement the Sustainable Development Goals”.

The General Assembly High-level Committee (HLC) on South-South Cooperation met in June to review progress made in implementing the Buenos Aires Action Plan (BAPA+40) and other other key decisions on South-South cooperation.

This HLC session considered follow-up actions arising from previous sessions and hosted a thematic discussion on “Accelerating the achievement of the SDGs through effective implementation of the BAPA+40 outcome document while responding to the COVID-19 pandemic and similar global crises”.

The HLC hosted 75 member states – including a Head of State and Ministers from around the world – as well as 23 intergovernmental organizations, 25 UN entities, civil society and the private sector. More than 400 people participated during side events which HLC Bureau Members took the lead in organizing on issues of importance to the South.

Deliberations focused on actions arising from the Report of the Secretary-General to the nineteenth session, which proposed concrete ways to enhance the role and impact of the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation, as well as the key measures taken to improve the coordination and coherence of UN support to South-South cooperation.

In terms of important messages and statements, Member States highlighted that COVID-19 has taught the world that South-South development cooperation is critical to an effective response to emergencies.

South-South cooperation was strongly reaffirmed as the means to support countries’ national development priorities, alignment with the SDGs, and the acceleration of achievement toward the 2030 Agenda.

South-South cooperation was also recognized as an effective approach to accelerate and deepen the efforts to build back better, healthier, safer, more resilient and sustainable.

It was emphasized that over the past decade, the world has witnessed the increase in the scale, scope, and diversity of approaches of South-South and triangular cooperation.

Countries of the Global South have strengthened institutional capacities for cooperation by formulating and implementing national development policies, strategies, and agencies, and by developing information and performance management systems for data gathering, expertise and technology mapping, and impact assessment.

With the strengthening of national capacities on South-South and triangular cooperation there is opportunity to collect and exchange evidence of how much South-South and triangular cooperation is being done, how it benefits people, and how to create institutional mechanisms to help countries align South-South collaboration with their national and regional agendas.

As the world fights the COVID-19 pandemic and strives to build back better, international development organizations must offer innovative, timely responses to remain relevant. This includes new forms of coordination based on more “coherent” and “integrated support” capable of unleashing change on the ground.

Traditionally, South-South and triangular cooperation has taken place among governments on bilateral terms. As development becomes more dynamic in nature and unprecedented in scale, South-South and triangular cooperation is now used to source innovation from wherever it is.

Also highlighted was that South-South and triangular cooperation is increasingly recognized as an important complement to North-South cooperation in financing for sustainable development.

UNOSSC will continue to promote, coordinate and support South-South and triangular cooperation globally and within the UN system. It will also continue to support governments and the UN system to analyse and articulate evolving and emerging trends, dynamics and opportunities in South-South cooperation.

Adel Abdellatif. Credit: FAO/Isaac Kasamani

In response to Member States requests, UNOSSC consistently demonstrates strong convening power across the UN system and serves as secretariat of UN Conferences including BAPA+40. UNOSSC has developed research networks at the global level, compiling evidence of good practices in South-South cooperation toward achievement of the SDGs, and created a global network of think tanks on South-South and triangular cooperation. UNOSSC also offers the South-South Galaxy platform for sharing knowledge and brokering partnership. The Office also manages a number of South-South cooperation trust funds and programmes.

Given UNOSSC’s mandate to support South-South and triangular cooperation globally and within the UN system, the Secretary-General requested UNOSSC to coordinate the preparation and launch of the UN System-wide Strategy on South-South and Triangulation Cooperation for Sustainable Development with the engagement of the UN Inter-Agency Mechanism for South-South and Triangular Cooperation, and other stakeholders.

The Strategy’s objective is to provide a system-wide policy orientation to UN entities in order to galvanize a coordinated and coherent approach to policy, programmatic and partnership support on South-South and triangular cooperation and increase impact across UN activities at all levels: national, regional and global. Implementation is governed by each entity individually, based on its own mandate and programme of work.

UNOSSC is also currently developing its 2022-2025 Strategic Framework. It is an opportunity for the Office to catalyze the use of South-South and triangular cooperation to accelerate the speed and scale of action towards achieving the SDGs.

For example, the Office aims to offer a platform whereby: (i) countries of the Global South can exchange knowledge, develop capacities, and transfer technologies to address their own development priorities as well as coordinate and co-design solutions to shared development challenges; (ii) UN agencies, programs, and funds can strengthen their support to SSTC at the global, regional and country levels.

No country is too poor to contribute to South-South cooperation for development, and no country is too rich to lean from the South. All partners have important elements to contribute. So, it follows that triangular cooperation is an important element of our work.

The COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare severe and systemic inequalities.

The pandemic has also highlighted the importance of the digital revolution. Building institutional capacity in sub-Saharan Africa and LDCs through South-South and triangular cooperation is essential for countries to fully harness digital transformation and recovery.

Triangular cooperation is a flexible platform where partners can mobilize different funding capacities in support of developing countries’ priorities.

Triangular cooperation demands horizontality and shared governance approved by all parties. It is based on a clear respect for national sovereignty and the seeking of mutual benefit in equal partnerships.

Recovery from pandemic requires additional support, innovative development solutions and arrangements between public and private sectors. We must facilitate opportunities to expand development cooperation and its processes and to improve the effectiveness of multilateral cooperation. Fostering multi-dimensionality and multi-stakeholders approaches is the way forward to enhance development impact.

During the June HLC Member States highlighted that in the COVID and post-COVID era, the below priority areas for triangular cooperation could be considered: 1) health, 2) data infrastructure, 3) manufacturing capacity and supply chain for relevant medical material and equipment, as well as treatment; 4) solar energy and reducing carbon footprint; 5) a coalition for disaster resilient initiatives; and 6) currency swap arrangements from international financial institutions.

Adel Abdellatif is the Director, a.i., of the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation. Before joining UNOSSC, he served as Deputy Director, a.i., and Senior Strategic Adviser in the Regional Bureau for Arab States of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). He came to UNDP following a two-decade career at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Egypt.

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In a Watershed Year for Climate Change, the Commonwealth Secretary-General calls for Urgent, Decisive and Sustained Climate Action

Biodiversity, Climate Change, Combating Desertification and Drought, Commonwealth, Conferences, Conservation, COP26, Editors’ Choice, Environment, Featured, Gender, Global, Headlines, Humanitarian Emergencies, Sustainability, TerraViva United Nations, Water & Sanitation, Women & Climate Change

Climate Change

Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland in The Bahamas after Hurricane Dorian. Scotland expressed concerns about the impact of climate change on exacerbating superstorms, like this 2019 event which took a massive human toll. Credit: Commonwealth

London, Sep 8 2021 (IPS) – This November, five years after signing the Paris Agreement and pledging to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, with a further target of below 1.5 degrees Celsius, world leaders will meet in Glasgow, UK amid COVID-19 pandemic shocks, rising hunger and an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report that warns of more extreme temperature, droughts, forest fires and ice sheet loss due to human activity.


The leaders are expected to submit more ambitious targets to limit greenhouse gas emissions.

Out of the 197 countries which signed the Paris Agreement, 54 are members of the Commonwealth. That association has been helping its members to craft their national climate targets and follow through with implementation.

IPS spoke to Commonwealth Secretary-General the Rt Hon Patricia Scotland QC about the Association’s climate initiatives, the unique challenges faced by small states, its focus on gender mainstreaming and access to financing for critical adaptation and mitigation projects.

Scotland is the sixth Secretary-General of the Commonwealth and the first woman to hold the post. The Commonwealth is an association of 54 countries that work together to advance shared values enshrined in the Commonwealth Charter, including democracy, human rights and sustainable development.

Excerpts of the interview follow:

===========
Inter Press Service (IPS): Secretary-General, it is a pleasure to be able to interview you from a small community in Dominica. Dominica continues to be proud of not just being a member of the Commonwealth but the land of your birth and the home of the Baroness Patricia Scotland Primary School.

In Dominica, we know that the Commonwealth is invested in climate change, and I’m happy to be speaking to you about one of the most pressing issues of our time.

The IPCC report has been dominating the climate change headlines in the lead-up to COP26. It is a sobering report that calls for urgent, increasingly ambitious action by world leaders to tackle the climate crisis. What does the report mean for the 54 member countries of the Commonwealth?

The Rt Hon. Patricia Scotland QC (PS): The latest IPCC report is a stark warning for humanity. One cannot argue with the definitive scientific evidence in the report, which shows how climate change is intensifying on a global scale, with widespread impacts. Some of these impacts are unravelling on our television screens and even right before our eyes, including increasingly destructive extreme weather events – from monstrous super storms in the Pacific and Caribbean to deadly floods in Africa and raging wildfires in Europe.

In many ways, the report reaffirms many of the concerns the Commonwealth has been advocating for over the past 30 years, particularly in relation to small and other vulnerable states. It also challenges us, as an international community, to respond – urgently!

We no longer have any excuse not to act. We already have a blueprint for international cooperation in the form of the Paris Agreement. What’s more, emerging from the Covid pandemic, we have a critical window to set a new development path and build back better. What the world needs now is urgent, decisive and sustained climate action. As I’ve always said: if not now, then when; if not us, then who?

Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland at COP 25. She was speaking to IPS ahead of the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) to be held in Glasgow in October and November 2021. Credit: Commonwealth

(IPS): We know that Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) are important to gauge how each country intends to do its part to reduce global warming. We also know that new NDCs should be submitted every five years, but some countries have not met the deadlines. How is the Commonwealth assisting member countries with articulating and submitting their NDCs?

(PS): The Nationally Determined Contributions – or national climate plans – are at the heart of the Paris Agreement. I cannot overstate their importance. It is through the NDCs that we translate this global agreement into reality on the country level.

This is why the Commonwealth Secretariat is working with the NDC Partnership to support governments in enhancing and delivering their national climate plans under the Climate Action Enhancement Package (CAEP).

Through this initiative, we embed highly skilled Commonwealth National Climate Finance Advisers in countries to fast-track the process. In Jamaica and Eswatini, our experts help create frameworks to include climate-related spending in national budget planning. In Belize and Zambia, our advisers assist in developing national climate finance strategies.

Our flagship Commonwealth Climate Finance Access Hub has also deployed advisers in nine other countries across Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific to help governments develop strong climate finance proposals for NDC implementation and wider climate action.

Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland pictured in Seychelles. She is particularly concerned about the financing and support of small island developing nations with their climate change challenges. Credit: Commonwealth

(IPS): How can Commonwealth countries help each other with their NDCs submission and implementation?

(PS): The Commonwealth is a family of 54 equal and independent nations, spanning five geographical regions with a combined population of 2.4 billion people, 60 percent of whom are under age 30. Thirty-two members are considered ‘small states’, while we also have some of the world’s biggest economies along with emerging countries in our group.

One of the most valuable aspects of the Commonwealth is, therefore, its diversity and incredible capacity to be a platform for countries to share experiences on a wide range of global issues, examining what works and what does not work and cross-fertilising ideas. Building on this, the Secretariat organises regular virtual events, convening a range of actors from different regions and sectors to exchange knowledge and best practices for climate action.

We also welcome the generous financial and in-kind support from member countries such as Australia, the United Kingdom and Mauritius, which enables the work of key programmes like the Commonwealth Climate Finance Access Hub and the CommonSensing Project (funded by the UK). The CCFAH ‘hub and spokes’ model ensures a dynamic network of expertise and a useful mechanism for cross-regional dialogue and international cooperation around NDCs.

(IPS): Access to finance for climate adaptation and mitigation initiatives continues to be an issue of concern, particularly for small island developing states. What mechanisms have the Commonwealth Secretariat established to assist countries in financing their climate commitments?

(PS): Funding for climate action is absolutely critical for the survival of our small and vulnerable member states. However, a concerning paradox is that countries most vulnerable to climate change are often the ones that find it most challenging to access climate finance.

This is mainly because they have constrained resources or capacity. For example, a small island developing nation may have just a small ministry or unit dedicated to climate change, and a single officer, if any, focused on mobilising finance. When you look at the complex requirements, application processes and varying criteria set by different international climate funds, it is clear there is a gap.

Consequently, many countries can spend months and even years working through the process to access finance, delaying climate action whilst impacts are ongoing.

This is why the Commonwealth Climate Finance Access Hub (CCFAH) was initiated in 2015, whereby long-term Commonwealth national climate finance advisers are embedded in government departments to help them develop successful funding proposals, and who then pass on the knowledge and skills to local officials and actors. As of June 2021, CCFAH has helped raise US$ 43.8 million of climate finance, including US$ 3 million of country co-financing for 31 approved projects. More than US$762 million worth of projects are in the pipeline.

We are also looking at innovative ways to fill the data gap in project proposals. Under the CommonSensing Project, we work with UNITAR-UNOSAT, the UK Space Agency and others, to use earth observation technology and satellite data to build more robust, evidence-based cases for climate finance in Fiji, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu.

(IPS): According to agencies like UNICEF, women and girls are disproportionately impacted by climate change – a reflection of patterns of gender inequality seen in other areas. Are you satisfied with the work of the Commonwealth in ensuring gender integration across climate change initiatives?

Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland planting mangroves in Sri Lanka. Scotland believes that the diversity of the Commonwealth is its strength in tackling climate issues. Credit: Commonwealth

(PS): To tackle climate change, we simply cannot ignore the role of half the world’s people who are women. In fact, the most recent Commonwealth Women’s Affairs Ministers Meeting in 2019 reiterated gender and climate change as one of four priority areas on gender equality. It is absolutely a top concern for the Secretariat, which is committed to mainstreaming gender across its work programmes.

All our regional/national climate finance advisers are expected to mainstream gender and youth considerations in their operations. All their projects must be responsive to the needs of women, men, girls and boys, as equal participants in decision-making and beneficiaries of climate action.

For instance, the Commonwealth National Climate Finance Adviser in Jamaica helped the government secure a grant of US$270,000 from the Green Climate Fund for the project ‘Facilitating a Gender Responsive Approach to Climate Change Adaptation and Mitigation’.

The Secretariat recently launched a gender analysis of member country climate commitments. This research will help us better understand the current situation and inform future activities and programmes.

 

A Regional Agreement for Healthy Eco-Systems in Latin America & the Caribbean

Civil Society, Development & Aid, Editors’ Choice, Environment, Featured, Headlines, Latin America & the Caribbean, Poverty & SDGs, Regional Categories, TerraViva United Nations

Opinion

Community-led environmental monitors actively protecting the Amazon Rainforest’s biodiversity as well as their livelihoods in Ushpayacu, Pastaza River basin, Peru. Credit: UNDP Peru/Susan Bernuy

VANCOUVER, British Columbia, Sep 8 2021 (IPS) – In August 31st 2021, five Nations including Costa Rica – the country where the Escazú Agreement was adopted – announced publicly working towards a proposal for UN Human Rights Council to recognize globally the right to a clean, safe, healthy and sustainable environment at its 48th session in September.


In a world where social-ecological crises are all too prevalent, do we need a broader human rights frame where also empathy and hope through legal innovation have a prevalent place? Can we imagine a world in which everyone can effectively engage in public participation and have access information and justice?

Latin America and Caribbean (LAC), like other parts of the world, face significant social-ecological challenges. In 2018, the UN Economic Commission of LAC estimated that around 185 million people lived in situation of poverty.

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, these already high numbers are rising with more than one third of its 650 million population now living in poverty.

The pressures for healthy ecosystems in LAC range from climate change to pollution in land and water, and conversion of tropical forests to monoculture plantations. The LAC region presents a rising trend in major pressures on biodiversity with the highest proportion of threatened species on Earth.

Latin America – my home for many years – consistently tops the dire statistics of dangerous places to be an environmental human rights defender since Global Witness began to publish data in 2012.

Yet, there is also another story. A story of ordinary and courageous women and men, girls and boys. A story of empowered right-holders and responsible duty-bearers that day-to-day contribute to legal advances with a regional scope.

Vibrant grass-roots and civil society pushed and pulled in the negotiations of the Regional Agreement on Access to Information, Public Participation and Justice in Environmental Matters in Latin America and the Caribbean (Escazú Agreement).

Their continued energy and collective action together with the legislative, executive and judiciary in their respective countries, will be vital for the Agreement’s implementation.

The Escazú Agreement – that weaves together human rights law and environment law – entered into force on Earth Day in 2021, and has a been ratified by half of its 24 signatory countries.

In the words of the Secretary-General of the United Nations “…this landmark agreement has the potential to unlock structural change and address key challenges of our times.”

Human rights are legally binding obligations that have contributed to precipitate societal transformations such as the recognition of indigenous peoples, peasants and local communities individual and rights across many Latin America and Caribbean countries.

In my work – which for the past twenty years has focused on human rights and environment – I have seen how degradation of healthy ecosystems afflicts specially the rights of people in vulnerable situations.

However, I have also witnessed first-hand how people in vulnerable situations including women environmental rights defenders are often those triggering change to safeguard the rich biological and cultural diversity in the region. This biocultural diversity provides essential contributions to the economy and livelihoods.

I believe that is just as important to place a spotlight in innovations and people’s agency in LAC countries as it is to report on catastrophic environmental and social events affecting the region.

While reading international media, I often find a single narrative of catastrophe associated with the LAC region or certain countries. In my view, this narrative risks creating distance rather than bringing people together, emphasising differences rather than our equal human dignity that is at the core of human rights.

Leaving no-one behind involves recognizing the agency of all and supporting everyone’s participation in caring for our planet.

Rather than a narrative of fear and despair of the global scale of environmental challenges, action implementing the Escazú Agreement connecting local and global instruments can generate positive change.

The Escazú Agreement can build on innovative governance instruments such as participatory environmental monitoring schemes – in which people not only access but also generate environmental information.

Transnational collaboration can also help, for example the 2021 EU Parliament Resolution which calls the EU Commission and EU member states to support countries to implement the Escazú Agreement.

The Escazú Agreement can also synergize with the post-2020 global biodiversity framework and National Biodiversity Strategies and Action Plans required by the Convention on Biological Diversity. Other instruments include National Action Plans aiming to implement the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs).

Having already recognised the right to a healthy environment, the signatory Escazú Agreement countries have a historic opportunity to champion the global recognition of this right.

Already sixty nine States have endorsed a statement in favour of its by the Human Rights Council. Fifteen UN Agencies declared that “the time for global recognition, implementation, and protection of the human right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment is now”.

Complementary to the legal obligations that the Escazú Agreement generates, I consider that this agreement also provides an opportunity for right-holders and duty-bearers to place human rights narratives within a broader frame encompassing empathy and hope for present and future generations.

Strategically using legal innovations from the local to the global level can contribute to planetary stewardship and good quality of life in harmony with nature, leaving no-one behind.

Claudia Ituarte-Lima is a public international lawyer and scholar. She is researcher on international environmental law at Stockholm University, senior researcher at the Raoul Wallenberg Institute of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law and visiting scholar at School of Public Policy and Global Affairs at the University of British Columbia. Ituarte-Lima holds a PhD from the University College London and a MPhil from the University of Cambridge. Twitter: CItuarteLima

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The Future of Food & Water Systems in Pakistan & Central Asia?

Asia-Pacific, Civil Society, Development & Aid, Editors’ Choice, Environment, Featured, Food and Agriculture, Headlines, Poverty & SDGs, Regional Categories, TerraViva United Nations, Water & Sanitation

Opinion

Clara Colton Symmes, Princeton-in-Asia Fellow, International Water Management Institute (IWMI), Sri Lanka

 
In an Interview with Dr Mohsin Hafeez, Country Representative – Pakistan, Regional Representative – Central Asia

Farmer working in a paddy field in Pakistan. Credit: Faseeh Shams / IWMI

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka, Sep 3 2021 (IPS) – An intense monsoon season in Pakistan means the country’s food system faces the challenge of both extreme floods and extended droughts.

In an effort to address these challenges through cross-sectoral collaboration, Dr. Mohsin Hafeez, IWMI’s Country Representative for Pakistan and Regional Representative for Central Asia, convened a regional dialogue in advance of the UN Food Systems Summit (which is scheduled to take place at the United Nations, September 23) .


Human actions are at the root of much water scarcity, but these international dialogues are an opportunity for humans to be a part of the solution by working to reconcile our damages through transforming how we approach food systems.

Pakistan ranks 88th out of 107 countries on the Global Hunger Index and extreme weather, intensified by climate change, has made farming a challenging venture there. Much of Pakistan’s food is now imported from overseas.

Dr. Hafeez’s work centers around improving the resiliency and efficiency of Pakistan’s water systems. This includes innovating water capture and storage systems in Islamabad and Rawalpindi, where he is working to introduce nature-based solutions like recharging groundwater with rainfall runoff.

By convening April’s regional dialogue and organizing four provincial dialogues in the time since, Dr. Hafeez provided the collaborative platforms necessary for reaching sustainably-managed water sources in his region. It is only through cross-sectoral dialogues and work that Pakistan will achieve sustainable food systems management.

“There is an urgent need for promoting inter-sectoral cooperation through evidence-based information to ensure water-food-energy security and environmental sustainability for food system transformation in Pakistan,” Dr. Hafeez said.

The pre-summit hosted in Italy was another opportunity to bring together diverse stakeholders in food systems in the leadup to the UNFSS. On the IWMI blog, we will be exploring what country managers in Uzbekistan and Pakistan hope to achieve through the UNFSS process.

A Q&A with Dr Hafeez:

How are water and food systems connected?

Water supply systems are first and fundamental in food systems. In Pakistan more than 90 to 95% of our total water resources is used for irrigating crops. It’s a water system intrinsically linked with the food system.

When there is a water shortage, we see a direct impact on food production because this is an arid environment, and farmers are not able to do agriculture without the artificial applying of water.

What are the most pressing challenges facing food and water systems in your region?

Pakistan is a food insecure country. We don’t even have food to eat, let alone nutritious options. Around 45% of the children have stunted growth. People don’t have enough food to meet their caloric needs. We’re importing all the other major crops in the last 4 to 5 years from overseas.

And the food system is dependent on water. When we don’t have enough water, the farmers are not able to grow anything, which impacts the lives and livelihoods of everyone.

If you’re talking about even the linkages between the water system and food system: the current water storage systems are only able to cope for 30 days of water supply.

Then there is also the issue of water quality. There is a lot of wastewater and effluents that mix directly into the into the water supply system including the canals and water networks. This also impacts the food system, so that what we grow may not have a same nutritious value.

Why is water storage so essential in Pakistan?

80% of annual rainfall happens during the monsoon season, which is around 60 to 90 days between July and September. The remaining nine months we receive only 16-20% of the water supply.

Water systems here are not resilient, so water storage capacity is quite low. And when we face extreme climate shocks like droughts, this stresses the water and food systems. Either we are facing three months of floods, or nine months without enough water.

What would a water secure world look like for Pakistan and what needs to happen in order to achieve that?

We need to make water systems more efficient, and that will only happen if we improve the efficiency of the irrigation system, which would make water more available for the other sectors. We also need to make water systems more resilient.

There has been a lot of focus on building large dams, but they require a lot of capital resources. I believe we should also focus on improving water resilience through nature-based solutions like rainwater harvesting and groundwater recharging at the localized level.

We need local, nature-based solutions and the government of Pakistan is planning to introduce 3000 small ponds across Pakistan so farmers will have more water available.

A holistic approach and reliable database on water resources and their usage across Pakistan is key to achieving food, water, and energy security. We are the fifth most climate-vulnerable country in the world and there is an urgent need for promoting inter-sectoral cooperation through evidence-based information.

We also need groundwater management policy. Even though we have a national water policy and provincial water acts, we don’t have a comprehensive groundwater plan. Ministries, like those for climate change and food security policy, must stop working in silos and collaborate.

The regional dialogue we convened did this. It brought ministries together and made them talk about how each could help the other in the water, food, energy (WEF) nexus.

How were you able to give voice during the dialogue to historically underrepresented groups like smallholder farmers, women, children, and rural communities?

We invited people from various government and private sectors and farmers. But because they were held in English, we faced the challenge of a language barrier. Many rural farmers do not speak English. So, we invited some and did what we could to help them with translators.

Another challenge is that this dialogue was conducted virtually, and many smallholder farmers did not have access to that. So, we had only two or three farmers participate.

But we had many government agencies that are directly involved in the farmers community. They were able to represent the farmers and a group called the Farmer’s Federation was also able to attend.

Woman working in a paddy field. Credit: Faseeh Shams / IWMI

How do events like the regional dialogues and then the larger UNFSS affect water systems in your region? And what would you like to see as a result of the UNFSS?

When people talk about the food systems, they talk about production, the food value chain, and consumption. And they often ignore the importance of water. This is really the first time in 10 years when we’re talking holistically about food in a way that includes every aspect of the system.

At a recent provincial dialogue, part of the Member State Dialogue, we had people working on nutrition, agriculture, the value supply chain, traditional agriculture, water, and policy. It provided a platform where people worked together and thought beyond their own specialty: identifying real issues and how they could be improved in the future together.

Pakistan joined a UNFSS coalition for developing countries facing food insecurity. The Pakistani government is emphasizing the need to build resilient societies and improve food accessibility. There will be actions and pledges made to invest more into food systems areas which have been typically ignored.

What upcoming IWMI projects do you think will affect the kind of food system transformation desired by the UNFSS?

IWMI and International Food Policy Research Institute are designing a CGIAR Initiative to scale up the integrated management of water, energy, food, land, biodiversity, and forests for inclusive, sustainable development in transboundary river basins in the context of a changing climate.

The NEXUS Gains Initiative will be a game changer, but also many other IWMI projects will be helpful in interconnected thinking about improving the food security and water systems.

As IWMI and the other One CGIAR centers work together, we will be able to make change in a more systematic, holistic way that will change the mindset around food systems and ultimately improve the resilience of water supply systems.

What is making you feel hope about the future of food and water systems in Pakistan and Central Asia?

The current government is Pakistan is saying that food security is one of their highest priorities. They have initiated so many social initiatives in that field, including a resource program where they are providing food to vulnerable communities, with a focus on gender and the stunted growth of children.

The government also emphasized a need to understand the challenges in agriculture sector, linking from the basic production system towards the value supply chain, because as I mentioned that 22% of the system level losses are there.

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